Today is the Winter Solstice. It is the shortest day and longest night of the year. Also marks the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Most people don’t even realize the importance of this day throughout history, but we sure take part in celebrations born in those ancient times!!! I am sure you are wondering what does this have to do with the holidays. Bear with me.
Back in those days, the solstice marked the rebirth of the sun. In other words, this marked a reversal: shorter days and longer nights, but also the promise that from this day forward the sun would stay in the sky a bit longer every day. Celebrations lasted for days involving everyone. Sharing food, an important part of the celebration, was meaningful because it represented faith in the return of the sun and the harvest.
Many cultures practiced this reversal. Romans had the Saturnalia, a seven-day celebration. Men dressed as women, masters as servants. There were greenery decorations, lighted candles, exchanges of gifts. The Celts had the Yule Log burning brightly for days to encourage the sun to come back. Druids gave mistletoe as blessings. In Scandinavian countries, presents of apples and oranges decorated with cloves, huge pine trees decorated with lights were part of the celebrations. Everyone was served mead and ale, or wine and beer depending on the country.
Aside from the celebrations, there were other activities designed to help the people survive the cold months. First, the slaughtering of animals because they would not have to be fed in the winter. So fresh food was plentiful for days. The rest of the meat was preserved to last through the cold months. Second, fruits and roots were stored in dry and dark places for the same reason. It was a matter of survival to monitor the food stored for those months ahead. Ancient people took this very seriously.
Regardless of our spiritual or cultural heritage, if we live in the Northern Hemisphere today, we find ourselves caught up, perhaps out of habit, in the commercial swirl known as the holidays that leaves us depleted in more ways than one. I don’t have to remind you of our endless trips to stores, supermarkets and such to prepare for the celebrations to come.
In our quest to please ourselves, our families and friends, to follow tradition or simple go with the flow, this is why we mark this event. In our cultures, this is ingrained one way or another. So many religious and pagan and cultural traditions begin around this day. A good reason for calling these days: Happy Holidays!!!